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U.S. working to add $300 million in civilian aid to Afghanistan, says Blinken

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

The Biden administration is working with Congress to provide nearly $300 million in civilian aid to Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, funds the Trump administration conditioned on progress in peace talks.

The announcement follows President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw the remaining U.S. troops from America’s longest war before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that led to the U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban.

In announcing the withdrawal on April 14, Biden said the United States would continue providing assistance to Afghan security forces and to civilian programs, including those for women and girls.

Blinken said the new assistance from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development was intended to “demonstrate our enduring support for the Afghan people.”

“The funding will be targeted at sustaining and building on gains in the past 20 years by improving access to essential services for Afghan civilians,” he said in a statement.

The money will go to promoting economic growth, fighting corruption, supporting “women’s empowerment,” civil society and independent media and other programs, he said.

The nearly $300 million was part of a $600 million aid pledge made by the Trump administration at an international aid conference in November.

But it withheld half the funds, making their release conditional on progress in peace talks in Doha between the Taliban and a delegation that includes Afghan officials.

The talks have been deadlocked for months. A U.S.-backed international conference that was to be held this week in Istanbul to kickstart the negotiations has been postponed because of the Taliban’s refusal to attend.

Approval for aircraft carrier during withdrawal

Top U.S. military commanders are seeking Pentagon approval to deploy an aircraft carrier near landlocked Afghanistan to help protect troops during their withdrawal from the country in coming months, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.

President Joe Biden announced last week that the United States will withdraw its remaining 2,500 troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the al Qaeda attacks that triggered America's longest war.

It is common for the United States military to use aircraft carriers or other warships to protect troops during sensitive missions like troop withdrawals. The Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier is currently in the Middle East.

Last year the United States deployed an aircraft carrier off the coast of Somalia during the drawdown from the country.

The U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had not yet approved the request, but was expected to decide in the coming days.

The U.S. Central Command declined comment

Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, told lawmakers earlier this week that the military would protect troops during the withdrawal.

The Pentagon has said the number of troops in Afghanistan could temporarily increase to help with the withdrawal, something that is common for the military.

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 1:05:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/us-working-to-add-300-million-in-civilian-aid-to-afghanistan-says-blinken/article34380997.ece

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